The New England Patriots’ offensive line had an up-and-down 2017 season, particularly when it came to protecting quarterback Tom Brady. The unit started the year slowly and before its week nine bye allowed the future Hall of Famer to be sacked a combined 21 times. But while the group had to watch starting right tackle Marcus Cannon suffer a season-ending ankle injury in week eight, it still bounced back over the second half of the season.
Through the final eight regular season games and three playoff contests, Brady was sacked “only” 18 more times – an improvement from 2.6 takedowns per game over the first half of the season to only 1.6 sacks per game over the second. Sacks, of course, are not the only way to measure pressure on a passer, though. And position coach Dante Scarnecchia’s unit did not fare much better in other categories that measure pass protection.
According to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, New England ranked only 23rd in pass blocking efficiency last year. The team, which registered a 77.0 success rate, surrendered a total of 186 pressures on 628 regular season passing plays. Subtracting the 35 sacks the unit gave up over its 16 first games and splitting the result, we are left with a combined 111 hurries as well as an NFL-high 40 quarterback hits.
While Brady – possibly more so than any other passer in the league – is routinely able to minimize the impact of getting hit, this number is far from ideal and shows that one of the Patriots’ goals this offseason has to be improving the pass blocking up front. In order to do that, the coaching staff will first have to find a combination with which to work during training camp and into the start of the regular season.
Some spots already appear to be set: David Andrews will be back at center, while Shaq Mason will start at right guard. Mason, despite giving up the de-facto game-deciding strip sack in Super Bowl 52, was a particular bright spot last year and surrendered just 26 total pressures over the regular season, according to PFF’s metrics. Outside of him and Andrews, however, the line is in flux.
The aforementioned Marcus Cannon is the favorite to retake his starting spot at right tackle, but the left side of the line appears to be a work in progress. Guard Joe Thuney is currently rehabbing after undergoing offseason foot surgery, while the starting tackle of the last six years Nate Solder left New England via free agency. Consequently, the Patriots went with a Trent Brown/Isaiah Wynn combination on the left side during minicamp.
Brown, who was PFF’s fourth-best pass blocking offensive tackle last season, could very well turn out to be the Patriots’ starting left tackle in 2018. Wynn, on the other hand, is more of a wild card: Having experience at both tackle and guard, the first-round rookie could compete both against Thuney or against Brown for a starting spot along the offensive line. One thing does seem certain, though: Whenever the rookie is on the field, he will help when it comes to pass protection.
Playing left tackle, Wynn gave up a mere five pressures on his 328 pass blocking snaps during his final year at Georgia. The Patriots need similar efficiency from him and all their other blockers up front – no matter who actually fills the starting spots – if they want to help their soon-to-be 41-year old quarterback sustain his MVP-level of play.